The Orthodox Union is the latest kashrut-certifying organization to put its stamp on Ima Restaurant, a move meant to end an almost year-long feud between the Teaneck restaurant and the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County.
Ima is also the first restaurant in Bergen County to receive OU certification. The organization typically does not supervise restaurants in communities with local rabbinical boards, said Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the OU’s kashrut department and religious leader of Cong. Shomrei Emunah in Englewood. Supervision, he said, is best left to local rabbinical councils because they know their communities. But because of Ima’s strained relationship with the RCBC, Genack said, the OU thought its involvement “would help rather than hinder.”
“Kashrus is not just food; it has to do, like everything in life, with relationships,” Genack said.
Ima opened in May 2010 with RCBC certification. A few weeks later, the agency withdrew its supervision. RCBC president Rabbi Larry Rothwachs, religious leader of Teaneck’s Cong. Beth Aaron, previously told The Jewish Standard that the issue concerned “the working relationship between the store owner, the mashgiach, and the RCBC.”
In October, restaurant owner Ofira Zaken approached OK Labs, a Brooklyn-based international kashrut agency affiliated with Chabad, which granted certification. An e-mail from some RCBC rabbis circulated later that month, however, warned that even under OK supervision, Ima did not satisfy RCBC standards.
The OK is an acceptable certification, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, religious leader of Englewood’s Cong. Ahavath Torah, told the Standard earlier this week, but it is generally expected that an outside kashrut organization would first consult with the local agency to hear its concerns.
“Because that didn’t take place, the RCBC found itself in a position where it could not endorse the situation,” he said.
Retired Teaneck businessman Perry Langert saw that the restaurant was hurting because of the feuds and, after speaking with Zaken about the strained relationships and their effects on business, he approached the OU to intervene.
“It just bothered me so much that a sweet person like that, who is such a great cook, should have such problems,” Langert said. “I thought it was a matter of misunderstanding and that’s what it was. We came to a wonderful decision and everybody’s happy.”
Langert credited OU President Simcha Katz, a Teaneck resident, and Goldin for brokering the deal and smoothing the restaurant’s relationship with the RCBC. Goldin, Langert said, explained to the RCBC that it was important for shalom baiyit, peace in the home, to straighten out the situation.
When Langert recounted Ima’s history to Katz, he concluded that the dispute was hurting Zaken’s livelihood. “I don’t know what happened earlier on between the RCBC and Mrs. Zaken, I just know it was unfortunate,” Katz told the Standard earlier this week. “It would be a shame if a person could lose a business.”
Katz blamed the ensuing row between the RCBC and the OK on a lack of communication. The OU, in turn, has been transparent with the restaurant and the va’ad, he said.
The restaurant’s mashgiach has been retrained to OU rules, but in order to satisfy an OU stipulation that all restaurants it certifies have a Sabbath-observant owner, Zaken had to take on a shomer Shabbat business partner. Langert, who had run a kosher hotel in Asbury Park nearly four decades ago, volunteered to become a partner.
The changes appear to have satisfied the RCBC.
“Having had the opportunity to be in direct, personal contact with representatives of the OU and to discuss all the relevant facts with them, the RCBC is fully satisfied that the issues which we raised concerning Ima’s have now been properly addressed,” Rothwachs said in an e-mail to the Standard this week. “The RCBC has therefore withdrawn any and all objections to patronizing this restaurant.”
Ofira Zaken’s husband, Nachum, described Langert as a good man who “just wanted to help.” He and his wife are “very happy” with Langert’s efforts to restore the restaurant’s standing in the community.
“We came here to open a restaurant, to bring delicious food from Jerusalem,” he said. “That was the purpose – to bring in family, that’s why we called it Ima [Hebrew for mother]. When the whole thing happened we didn’t feel very comfortable with it.”
“We changed [certifications] because we want peace with everyone, so everyone can come,” Ofira Zaken said. “I want to be good with everyone.”
Ima will hold a grand reopening on May 1 and, said Langert, welcomes “everybody who eats traditional kosher, Orthodox kosher, Reform kosher – anybody who enjoys kosher food.”